Pretoria - Bulls lock Wilhelm Steenkamp’s two week ban has opened the door for Junior Bok star Jacques du Plessis to possibly make his debut for the Pretoria side this weekend against the Stormers at Newlands.
According to the supersport.com website, the Bulls will only name their side on Wednesday for their final Super Rugby league clash, Steenkamp’s suspension has given coach Frans Ludeke some more concerns to sort out ahead of what is a very tough fixture indeed for the Bulls.
With rising star Jan Serfontein already ruled out with a knee injury, Ludeke is set to make a second change to the match squad now that Steenkamp is out, and while he could easily have chosen between the likes of Jean Cook or a fit-again Paul Willemse, the coach looks set to give the big under-20 star a chance to make an impression for the Bulls.
Du Plessis was one of the star players for the Junior Boks at the recent IRB Junior World Championship and has impressed at Junior level since joining the Bulls.
His size and mobility on the field – he stands 2.01m and weighs in at 119kg – have made him an asset at both lock and flank and is seen as one of the future stars for Springbok rugby.
Steenkamp was ruled out by a Sanzar judicial tribunal which found him guilty of contravening Law 10.4 (a) - striking another player with his head after he was cited during a Super Rugby match at the weekend.
The Sanzar Judicial Hearing held via videoconference earlier on Tuesday was heard by Mike Heron, and found that Steenkamp was reckless rather than intentional in his actions, finding that he did not head butt Butch James as claimed in the citing.
"Steenkamp made contact with the Sharks player with his head in an attempt to clear out the player from a collapsed maul.
"I found from the video footage that the player led with his head and contacted the Sharks player in between the shoulder and the head.
"From the video footage I found that Steenkamp intended to lead with his head and make contact with the Sharks Player and that he was reckless as to whether he would commit an act of Foul Play," Heron said in a statement.
"I was assisted in these finding by former professional player John Langford.
"I did not find that Steenkamp intended to injure the Sharks player nor did I find that his head struck the face of the Sharks player as alleged in the citing.
"I found that the action was in an intense and critical phase of play when the Sharks player was attempting to interfere with the Bulls possession.
"I was satisfied that the player gave evidence honestly and to the best of his recollection, and other than the findings made above I accepted his evidence."
Du Plessis’ rise is an interesting one from the Bulls perspective, as they could easily have brought Jacques Potgieter in at lock, with Cook in the loose trio or decided to put Willemse on the bench again.
Willemse has returned to action after three months on the sidelines, but there is a feeling he isn’t match fit at the moment and needs another game before heading back to the Super Rugby squad, and will play for the under-21s this weekend against the Leopards in Potchefstroom.
In the only other anticipated change, Serfontein’s spot is likely to be filled by Francois “Swys” Venter, who has also recently returned to action after a long period on the sidelines with injury.
Venter played in the Bulls second-stringer’s heavy defeat at the hands of the Lions last weekend at Loftus and was one of the few players who looked good in the Bulls side that were dominated by the Lions.
The rest of the Bulls side is likely to be the same as the one that faced the Sharks.